Why Shih Tzus Get Hip Dysplasia and How to Handle it

Shih Tzu dog laying on couch playing with rope

Key Points

  • The Shih Tzu dog breed is more prone to hip dysplasia due to genetics, body composition, and environmental factors.

  • There are several symptoms of hip dysplasia to look out for in your Shih Tzu.

  • There are many treatment options for dogs who have been diagnosed with hip dysplasia — everything from home treatments to invasive surgeries.

Shih Tzu's are a small Asian dog breed whose name means "Little Lion" However, despite their name, they have a charming, cuddly, and loving disposition making them a perfect dog for a family.

These big-eyed, short-snouted pups are explicitly bred to be companions. Unfortunately, though their adorableness makes them popular dogs, Shih Tzu's have their own set of health issues. The most prominent of which is dog hip dysplasia, dislocation, and disc degeneration.

Shih Tzu Hip Dysplasia Explained

Thankfully due to responsible testing and breeding, hip dysplasia is becoming less and less common in beloved Shih Tzus.

Recent studies have shown only 3 percent of Shih Tzus are affected by this disease now, versus nearly 20 percent before. However, that still means three out of 100 Shih Tzu's will have this painful and debilitating disease. Screening before adoption has helped cut down on the amount of Shih Tzu's that pass down the gene for developmental hip dysplasia. The effects can vary in one hip or both hips, one knee or both knees, and varying seriousnesses.

What Hip Dysplasia Means

Hip dysplasia is a degenerative joint disease, also called osteoarthritis. A typical hip joint in dogs works like this; a round ball joint sits comfortably in a soft, padded round socket and moves smoothly. However, hip dysplasia occurs when it is a strange shape or size instead of the round socket being smooth and soft. That causes the ball joint to slip out of place or become distant from the round socket. A Shih Tzu with these effects becomes unstable and feels pain in the hip area.

Typically Shih Tzu puppies are born with normal hips, but over time and use, the hips begin to develop abnormalities and degeneration. Although it is more difficult to tell, vets can start to look for signs of hip dysplasia in puppies as young as five or six months. However, in most cases, it doesn't begin to develop in Shih Tzus until they get older.

Before this occurs though, make sure you are doing everything possible to ensure joint health is a priority for your furry friend.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Shih Tzus

There are several causes of hip dysplasia in Shih Tzus, ranging from genetics to environmental factors.


The primary predisposition Shih Tzu's have towards getting hip dysplasia is their genetics. They are prone to the disease through DNA passed down from the parents.

Shih Tzu's are born with genes that cause them to grow quickly, exacerbating hip dysplasia symptoms by not allowing the joints to strengthen and develop at each stage of growth fully. There are certain foods and supplements that your vet may recommend to help slow the growth of your Shih Tzu and aid in proper development.

In addition, there are vitamins on the market specifically meant to target the problem areas of your Shih Tzu.

Body Type

How Shih Tzus are shaped leaves them vulnerable to this disorder. They have a long heavy body placed on short, little legs that have difficulty bearing the weight of their whole body.

In addition, mainly because Shih Tzus are very active and love to run and jump as much as possible, overuse of their little joints can cause their hips to become dislocated, which can cause hip dysplasia, dislocation, arthritis, and chronic pain.

Environmental Factors

There are a few ways environmental conditions can affect your Shih Tzu in getting hip dysplasia and arthritis.

For example, if you have a high bed your little friend has to jump down constantly, that puts a lot of pressure on their joints every time and causes hip pain.

Another condition that will help develop hip dysplasia is pushing your Shih Tzu too far when it comes to walking and exercise. Due to their size, they are relatively delicate little dogs, and a mile to you may feel like six miles to them.

Shih tzu dog portrait at studio

How Hip Dysplasia Affects Your Shih Tzu

Your Shih Tzus life can be significantly affected by hip dysplasia. Not only will he be in quite a lot of pain, but he will also not be able to do the activities normal dogs enjoy, such as running, going on walks, and playing. In addition, your dog may also gain weight because he can not exercise enough, which can also worsen the symptoms of hip dysplasia.

Your Shih Tzu may also come down with something called intervertebral disc herniation, which is when one of the disks in your Shih Tzu's spine becomes herniated. This can also happen as a result of an irregular gait due to hip dysplasia. This condition can be cured with surgical methods; however, 95 percent of them usually heal themselves.

Exactly How Severe Can This Health Condition Get?

Hip dysplasia may impact your Shih Tzu's life span.

For example, if your dog cannot exercise properly, he will gain weight and risk things like heart disease, which could end his life prematurely. Another example is if your dog needed to run to get away from a dangerous situation, he may not be able to. Lastly, the overall happiness and well-being of your Shih Tzu will take a nose dive if diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia. In that case, sometimes it is the more humane option to put your dog down than force him to suffer in a painful state.

Symptoms You Can Look For

As a responsible pet parent, you need to be aware of what symptoms to keep an eye out for when it comes to hip dysplasia in your Shih Tzu.

Limping and "Bunny Hop"

There are quite a few ways to determine if your dog is beginning to exhibit symptoms of hip dysplasia. Usually, in a dog's gait, they use all four legs in tandem, but when your Shih Tzus hips are beginning to be sore, he will do something in the dog community referred to as "The Bunny Hop." Walking like this means he will hop with both of his back legs simultaneously to try and lessen the pressure on his hips.

If your Shih Tzu is developing hip dysplasia on only one side, you may see him limping to try and put as little pressure on the joint as possible and avoid a pain sensation.

Irregular Gait

Another possible symptom is an irregular gait or dog limping, resulting from uneven leg length. Varying leg lengths can be present from the tissues and ligaments growing incorrectly. This can cause lameness in your Shih Tzu and may require surgical treatment.

Trouble Rising

Another sign to look for is if your Shih Tzu is having trouble getting up from sitting down or sleeping. When the muscles aren't used for an extended period, they become stiff and need to be woken up with use. Your pup may also feel the need to squat much lower when going to the bathroom to put less pressure on his hips.

Steps to Take If You Think Your Shih Tzu Might Have Hip Dysplasia

There are several steps you should immediately take if you suspect that your dog might be suffering from hip dysplasia. As always, consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. The sooner you get answers, the better.


The best way to accurately tell if your dog has hip dysplasia or another hip problem is to bring him to the vet. Your veterinarian will most likely do a combination of x-rays, an ultrasound, and physical examinations to determine the severity of your Shih Tzus hip dysplasia. Your vet will send the x-rays taken to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and they will give your dog a rating on how severe his dysplasia and disc degeneration are. This is also how they check Shih Tzus for dysplasia before breeding. If they pass, they will receive a certificate you should look for when adopting your Shih Tzu.

shih tzu sitting in front of white background

How Hip Dysplasia Can Progress Overtime

Hip dysplasia progresses in severity over time.

First, it will begin as soreness and potential dislocation of the hip joints. Then, the more irregular tissue grows, the more distance made between the joint and the socket will cause more pain. Eventually, if the hip dysplasia goes untreated, it can turn into arthritis which may cause your Shih Tzu to lose the ability to move without feeling severe pain.

On the other side, hip dysplasia can also develop into an intervertebral disc herniation or a herniated disc. This happens when your dog tries to avoid putting pressure on some parts of his legs and hips, causing him to walk incorrectly. The soft spongey discs between vertebrae may slip during this time, which can cause pressure to be put on the spinal cord and cause spinal pain. Pressure on the spinal cord can result in dog limping and partial or complete loss of feeling in your dog's hindquarters. In addition, you may notice he begins to drag his back legs or feet for short distances during a walk.

This can be the first warning sign your Shih Tzu may be inflicted with a herniated disk. Typically with proper treatment, this ailment can be cured via surgery, arthritis medication, or physical therapy.

Top Hip and Joint Supplements

Though there may not be a way to reverse hip dysplasia through a diet, there are ways to cause the disease not to develop at all, or the least not get any worse.

Your vet should always be the one to suggest which supplements and how much of each your dog needs, but they will likely be one of these three.

Omega 3

Omega 3 is a beneficial vitamin for hip dysplasia because it helps ease the swelling in the joints and break down enzymes that would potentially aid in the destruction of cartilage.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

The second helpful vitamin is a combination of Glucosamine and Chondroitin. These two components are the structural components of cartilage. They are produced naturally in the body, but a Shih Tzu with hip dysplasia may need additional support.

Soybean and Avocado Extract

Finally, soybean and avocado extract can be very helpful in cutting down on inflammation, therefore helping ease pain.

These three vitamins being consistently added to their diet may help cut down on the effects of hip dysplasia or help to prevent it altogether.

Vitamin C can also be an extremely beneficial vitamin to help avoid dog hip dysplasia. Vitamin C in dogs helps reduce inflammation and radical aging, both of which are risk factors for hip dysplasia.

Preventative Measures

Weight management can be helpful when it comes to preventing hip dysplasia in your Shih Tzu.

If you think about how much weight must be put on those little back legs, you can imagine how cutting down on extra pounds can help relieve stress on the hip joints. Additionally, it is easy to keep your dog at the proper weight with the implementation of healthy food and exercise in moderation. In addition, making sure your Shih Tzu isn't jumping down from high places or over-exerting himself can also be beneficial to make sure hip dysplasia doesn't occur. Finally, when exercising your Shih Tzu, it is imperative to pay attention to his body language, so you can be sure to stop when he is getting visually uncomfortable.

Next Steps

It can be hard when you first notice something is off with your dog, but it is important to take action immediately.

See the Vet

The first step to take when you notice your Shih Tzu showing symptoms of hip dysplasia is to take him to the vet. This will ensure you know to what level your Shih Tzu's hips have degenerated. Then, when you see the seriousness of your dog's condition, you can better treat his needs.

It may also be helpful to see a vet who specializes in intervertebral disc surgery, such as Dr. Jennifer Perkins who is based in Connecticut.

Home Treatments

Secondly, after they have officially been diagnosed, make sure to follow the steps the vet gave you.

Such actions will be supplementing vitamins in food, controlled exercise, and the most crucial step, which is keeping your Shih Tzu comfortable. The best way to do this is by ensuring your dog stays warm. Because science has not been able to nail it down yet, arthritis tends to worsen when exposed to the cold. It is most likely because the cold causes muscles to stiffen, and warmth makes muscles relax.

Consider investing in a calming dog bed for some extra support and comfort.

Keep Your Shih Tzu Warm

A great way to ensure warmth in your Shih Tzu is by setting him up with a dog bed with a heating pad under it. Keeping lots of blankets around on the bed can also help keep your Shih Tzu comfortable and cozy.

In addition, on particularly bad days, it may be helpful for you to heat a water bottle to a warm temperature and gently place it on your Shih Tzu's hips.

close up of shih tzu with pink bow

Treatment Options for Hip Dysplasia

The great news is that veterinarian medicine has come a long way and there are many options to help treat your dog's hip dysplasia.


The most common treatment options for hip dysplasia are non-steroid medications and surgery.

The drugs used are for minimizing inflammation, which can slow the effects of hip dysplasia. There are several types of medicines. Sadly, where the medication can ease the pain and symptoms of hip dysplasia and potentially slow the worsening of the disease, it will not reverse the effects of hip dysplasia.

Triple Pelvic Osteotomy

The only thing that can potentially reverse the effects of hip dysplasia in your Shih Tzu is surgery.

TPO (Triple Pelvic Osteotomy) is one surgical option. This option is mainly used when veterinarians see the beginning stages of hip dysplasia in puppies. While being a somewhat invasive surgery, it typically has promising results. They will put your puppy under anesthesia and go in to manually correct where the hip and the ball joint are connecting. Following this procedure, physical therapy will be required to improve muscle strength in the patient.

Femoral Head and Neck Ostectomy

While some other dogs may receive a total hip replacement, it isn't typically a good option for smaller breeds like Shih Tzu's.

Instead, they will perform something called a Femoral Head and Neck Ostectomy. This is the process of removing the head of a femur and causing it to regrow and develop a new one that has a better fit into the joint. This surgery is also very invasive but has very high success results in smaller breeds of dogs.

Subtrochanteric Osteotomy

The operation known as the Subtrochanteric Osteotomy is one avenue your vet may take to try and solve your Shih Tzu's hip dysplasia. One of the many causes of dog hip dysplasia is when there is a gap between the socket and the joint. This surgery is the process of going in and correcting those components, so there is no longer a gap. This should result in your dog having no more hip dysplasia symptoms after a full recovery.

A Fulfilling Life With Hip Dysplasia

The best thing to do to make sure your Shih Tzu can live a fulfilling life is to pre-screen your puppy for the symptoms of hip dysplasia and make sure your puppy's parents also don't have hip dysplasia.

Beyond that, keeping your Shih Tzu comfortable is very important. Also, ensuring your Shih Tzu doesn't exercise beyond a healthy amount or become overweight puts unnecessary weight on his hips.

Overall, Shih Tzu's are excellent pets that are sweet, sassy, quick learners, and cuddly. They will stay loyal to their owners, so it is important to be devoted to them and help them get the proper care they need to live a happy life.

Don't let the risk of dysplastic hips stop you from adopting one of these extraordinary dogs.

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